Rethinking: Gospel

At the very heart of rethinking the meaning of gospel, which I do in The King Jesus Gospel: The Original Good News Revisited , is one central question:

Is 1 Corinthians 15 the gospel or not?

That leads to a chaser question: Is 1 Corinthians a sketch of the full gospel or only part of it? Or, is this an adequate or incomplete presentation of the gospel?

We can say the same of 2 Timothy 2:8: “Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel..” Is this the gospel or not?

Our central question has enormous consequences for how we “frame” the gospel.

What I mean by “framing” is how we present it and how we tell it and what narrative it tells if we want to be faithful to what Paul tells us about the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15. I want to ask a few questions of you today:

Do you think what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15 is the gospel?

Do you think Paul omitted anything important?

What drives this gospel of Paul? The story of God in this world, from Adam and esp Abraham to Jesus, or a systemic plan of how a person gets saved?

What does this say about how we “present” the gospel today?

This is not a question of whether the Story framing is about salvation, for surely that framing tells us about salvation: “for our sins.” But the issue is how the apostle Paul, who thinks he is here presenting the apostolic tradition about the gospel — that is, what all the apostles said was the gospel, “framed” the gospel. Is it framed as the Story of Israel come to fulfillment in Jesus as Messiah/King and Lord (and Son) who saves or the plan of personal salvation? The former leads us from christology to salvation, and so is a saving message, but the latter too often never even gets to the Story of Israel and often only tells us that Jesus is the Savior. So this is not a choice between gospel Story vs. salvation but between a gospel Story about Jesus who saves and salvation theology without that Story framing.

Another way of putting this: If you examine 1 Corinthians 15, what is the gospel? (I am convinced many read this text and see something else or don’t think this really is the gospel.)

Here’s 1 Corinthians 15:1-8.

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

I believe it is probably even more accurate to think the gospel extends all the way to v. 28 (see after the jump).

1 Now, brothers and sisters, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. 2 By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.

9 For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me. 11 Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.

The Resurrection of the Dead

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. 23 But each in turn: Christ, the firstfruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him. 24 Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 For he “has put everything under his feet.” Now when it says that “everything” has been put under him, it is clear that this does not include God himself, who put everything under Christ. 28 When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than fifty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.